I read an article here about relational art in Cornwall in the UK. I picked it because of the image above which is one of the first images that appears when you search the term on Google. Last semestre in Video Art class, we watched a movie, the small portion of which we saw in class where is being asked is relational art a new “ism”. I thought the criteria used by Ben Lewis as to what made something an “ism” were pretty spot on, but I was just as confused about this new art as he seemed to be in his film.
Nicholas Bourriaud, who was the curator and critic who identified relational art, states in his book on it that “a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space“. Ok, so what I gather that to mean and from what I gleaned from the various artworks I found was that relational art is art that hinges on participation. That is who would usually be the viewer would then become part of the artwork by their participating in its creation, culmination or execution.
When you think about some of the works like the one above, it asks for the viewer to be a part of the art spectacle which dissolves the separation that usually occurs between the view and the art object. It’s almost like reality tv where the viewer’s behavior becomes fodder for entertainment. It leads to an odd expression of artwork, I think from a critical standpoint because how true is the art experience only as far as relational works like this. Relational art seems to want to end the separation of art object and observer, but is it an honest separation? I feel like it wants to eleminate power dynamics, but does it really do that? I can’t entirely say that it does because when involving the viewer to be art (otherwise, we can assume say that no art is happening, unless the non-participation becomes participation which in turn leads us to a John Cage-ian type of relational art) takes away the genuineness of the human interaction and participation needed to be relational. I think barriers still exist. It’s an odd artform to wrap my head around, but it is one that I do enjoy because I like it when there is art that is either participatory or interactive, but I don’t think one should arrive at that the viewer is now also the artist as well. I think they will have become art objects themselves. It’s like a participatory viewership in some sense.
Our first tour was to Chipotle. Nicole led this tour, and it started our interesting touring adventure, especially as we had the mike and amplifier to add to the touring experience. Nicole’s soundtrack were the sounds of Chipotle. I liked how she communicated what Chipotle meant to her — that it had a connection with her and her best friend here at American. It gave great insight into her making Chipotle a choice. That she did not have a Chipotle in Hawaii, and here this is where she could gather with her friends and have a comfort away from home were great explanations to make her tour more special. She also gave great background on Chipotle’s food practices, its history about its creator and his using his friends as his advisers and on his board. I think that echoed her experience with Chipotle and her friends. One of the best moments was inside while she ordered what she loves to eat there. The rest of our tour group were in back but by the line. Continuing the tour in such a public and used space added to the artfulness of the experience, especially those moments when patrons thought we were in line as well.
My tour was next. I wish there wasn’t as much snow, and that it could occur in the daylight. I think it’s a completely different experience at night. I didn’t mind it being nighttime however. Just the ice. The snow and the ice. I was happy with how my tour turned out because I wanted it to feel like Anthony was having a conversation about his journey, and I think that turned out well. I did have to remember to slow down my pace cos I’m tall and usually walk pretty fast. My tour was supposed to go on a couple of blocks beyond Wisconsin and then swing back up to go to James’s but those sidewalks were completely ice-ridden. It was the perfect place to end it, though.
This leads us to the next tour, which was James’s at the National Cathedral. I really enjoyed his tour. His had the spirit of the Cathedral built within it. He started out by asking us if anyone had visited the Cathedral, who was familiar with it. He gave us the history of the Cathedral and its being an Episcopalian church as well as national. He gave us a nice tidbit about George Washington wanting there to be a national university and a national church, and how American University and the Cathedral got their starts around the same time which fulfilled Washington’s desires. You could see his loving the space, and how it meant something personal to him. We didn’t get to go inside, but the bells rang nicely and he took us round the building and up close. It gave us a great sense of the size of the building. He also gave more details about the gargoyles and architecture and took us to see the park where he (and others ostensibly) likes to study and hang out. We couldn’t venture down because of the snow and ice, but you got the message.
After our walk back to campus we did Yaba’s tour. She took us to Anderson and Letts. She stumbled in the beginning. You could tell she had a script plans and that it was nerves that got to her. I’d only say, even with a script planned — don’t get bogged down by it or just read it! We all read from our scripts; it made it easier. Plus, the audience doesn’t know what’s on or not on your script, so if you add some embellishment here, forget a part there. It won’t make it any less effective. She gave us the history of the buildings, how it had been for boys first and then made coed in the 60s. She then spoke about her time there in a very sarcastic and witty manner. It was hilarious. It was Yaba’s observations on a special place on campus. It got the attention of passersby. I liked it because I’ve never lived on campus at American, and it gave me a good insight into how that is, especially from a place that as Yaba described it, seemed so insular to itself.
Next up was Todd’s tour on Katzen. He took us up the staircase from outside which I feel not enough people know about. He gave great history on the building and its architecture. His soundtrack was the most instrumental, and that was fitting because of the kinds of classes (music, dance, and art) that go on in Katzen. It really encapsulated the sound of Katzen. We got a sense of his emotional attachment to Katzen, but not enough of it. I would like to have known more about his Dad and how he felt about Katzen. He didn’t connect with us enough, though he gave us details about Katzen like it’s curving walls which I would have never observed before. (It’s a feature I look at all the time from outside the building now). I wish his tour would have had more about his personal relationship with Katzen as well as the wealth of information he gave us.
We had a break in our tours and they resumed Thursday. First up was Anais. She took us on a tour of a field next to Katzen. I think it was Turtle Park or some such. I know it was named so because of the turtle statues in the playground. Her tour was so poetic. Great reading voice Anais has. The field was covered in ice and mud. It made getting around an adventure, but I think that echoed the same adventure that her poetic reflections took us on. She started with the soil and gave us info about DC and its soil and soil problems, and how soil erosion was one of them — that and the lack of iron which she compared to the lack of iron in her blood. She took us to a metaphysical space and spoke about the layers underneath the earth’s crust. She compared the roiling core of the earth to molasses and thought of her blood like that — well the iron in it. That we had to navigate around mud and through ice and snow just helped relax us even more. I think it was like walking a labyrinth in reflection. Anais carried us through a tour that was like on long meditative moment. Some parts of her tour I can’t remember the details; I can only remember the experience. That, to me, is not at all to the detriment of the tour but an asset and compliment.
Last on our touring was Elena. She gave a very passionate tour of the Rotunda at Katzen and by extension Katzen itself. Her tour was also from her perspective of what the space meant to her. She gave us a brief amount of history and then played her sound. I have to say it was easily my favorite sound especially as it echoed and reverberated around the rotunda. Perfect place to play that sound. She spoke about how the rotunda was like the locus of the arts at American, her remembering singing with the choir on the steps of the rotunda. I liked her descriptions of the building, how it stretched out like a cat. I liked in her soundtrack how she asked students what the rotunda was to them/how they used it and got their responses. Those were a direct echoing of how she saw it.
These tours were fun. Like Naoko, I wish ours was a daytime class and that way someone could experience the outside tours along with us since the camera couldn’t get the good recordings outside in the dark. It was fun how our tours were an artful project and then we became an artful project to those watching us have our touring experience. It was cool to experience places that one would not typically tour in a “tour-ful” manner. It gave me new perspectives on places that were so familiar and a great introduction to places not familiar but for which I will now have a great perspective when interacting with them in the future.
As told from the voice of a Bikeshare bike, who we’ll call “Anthony”.
Thank you for selecting me. I know that because of the popularity of the bikeshare program, my being selected isn’t something incredible, but I appreciate it nonetheless. Be sure you raise or lower my seat to allow for you the best comfortability – that is if you’re actually riding me or one of my fellow bikes for this tour.
Kenny told me you were going to walk this tour with him, so we’ll make adjustments with each other for our journey which is set to be a bit longer since you’re on foot. I have wheels. Advantage mine. Before we undock, take a moment; get your bearings. This sidewalk is a nice location.
We are at a crossroads of sorts. The main drag that separates the Katzen Center from the rest of the main campus here at American. When you go up the incline a few paces, you’ll note a slight bump and the narrowing of the sidewalk. This can be iffy to navigate sometimes as a bike because some on foot don’t always heed the room we actually need. This is a moment when my bell comes in handy.
Look to your left and right as we approach Ward Circle. Do you see them? You should. There should be at least one student milling about here or there. If not, well, then we’re lucky because that means we have the entire sidewalk to ourselves – easy traveling; however, if you do, take note of them. They are just as important to this journey as we are ourselves. Kenny usually navigates one of us on the sidewalk while going round this portion of the circle which has adventure up ahead in the form of the black tar sidewalk.
Y’know in other parts of the city, they use this material that’s like rubber but looks of grey stone so that the roots of the trees next to the sidewalk can grow unfettered, and this allows your walk to be without uneven pavement. No accidental tripping or stumbling. I’d recommend it here, but I don’t necessarily know to whom to make such a request. My wheels are sturdy, just like yours – your feet! – so no worries there. Just be mindful.
Now we take a pause here where Nebraska Avenue continues on next to the SIS building. Depending on the time of day this particular stop is either gratefully empty or kind of annoying full. I have to weave about the walkers, but again that’s a part of what makes this journey so fun, so interesting.
Disney’s Pocahontas once sang, “You know one thing I like about rivers is you can’t step in the same river twice. The water’s always changing always flowing.”
I feel that way about this section of Massachusetts Avenue. You see, where we shall be traveling is not like “traditional” Mass Avenue (as the locals call it); this is not grand historic embassy row, the part of the city that once housed [insert historical details here]. No, this is what I like to refer to as the beginning of the Furtherance of Mass Avenue. It’s not the world’s movers and shakers that shape this part of this long artery of Washington DC. It’s you and me. It’s us. It’s your fellow alums and mates and peers and the people that live in Foxhall and The Berkshire and the homes on the right.
— Sidebar—at this point in our journey I would normally be transitioning into the street lanes, while Kenny looked out for oncoming traffic. Usually you need to work up some good speed so that those mammoth vehicular monsters (also known as cars) give you the respect you deserve. – Sidebar complete –
Back to my main point. It’s the students, the professors, the commuters, the locals, the cars, the behemoths – okay buses – that make this section of Mass Avenue unique. It’s the sheer height and size of the trees lining the sidewalk, the great downward incline that gives us that go go go attitude that make this part of this avenue incredible. It’s different every time I travel it, but so familiar just the same.
This traffic light can be annoying because usually one of those modular coaches get stuck, and I have to weave my way through because, hey!, I’m a bike. Traffic light, shmaffic light sometimes. Don’t judge me!
We’re going to dip down some more and if you look to the left you’ll see a valley with a beautiful collection of forest. That’s also what’s incredible here. Forest just appears out of nothing. Out of nowhere. Washington’s Rock Creek park is one of the oldest National Parks in the U.S. It dates back to 1890. Down there are trails. Wondrous trails on foot. In the summer the air gets cooler here, fresher, invigorating – at least according to Kenny. That’s what he tells me.
Watch out if you’re riding one of us, here though! Here the manhole covers are sunken into the pavement more than usual. If you don’t hit them right, boom! Accident. You don’t want an accident, especially in a bus lane. Those bastions of steel and size would not be fun to connect with.
We should now be by the Massachusetts Apartments. This is a great spot to get out of the actual traffic when riding one of us. This is a strenuous uphill climb where runners, people with kids, with strollers, all kinds of obstacles milling about in the daytime like to linger. Usually you have to move into the grass. This is where you lower me to my lowest speed and take your time, use some effort, gather your breath, this climb uphill. On foot I’m sure it’s much easier. On one of us, work, no matter what.
To our left is Embassy Church, named so because of its location. So yeah, aptly named. If you check out their website, they’ll tell you that they see themselves as spreading their Christian message to the city and the world. On our left is Annunciation Catholic Church and school. Sometimes the school kids play out here and do this weird thing where they stare at passersby, their whole game, just stopping. Just ceasing, so they can watch you.
In the next block there’s some homes we travel by before we get to Wisconsin Ave. In that house there, with the blue door lives and old woman who tends her yard and garden. She’s nice. If you see her, say hi. She’s nice. Usually offers a smile or at least acknowledgment.
From here at Wisconsin Ave, Mass Ave dives down. We’ll see signs about the speed limit coming up. This is a point when I can hit my top speed. They made us so that we plateau at about 24 to 30mph. Our tour is almost over. We’re passing Bryce Park and we’ll end around 36th St right before Observatory Circle.
Well here’s why. Embassy Row gets its start here and that truly is another tour. It’s still a great trip. It’s great to fly down the avenue, wind whipping at you, weaving in and out of traffic, basically telling all the cars to naff off. Though going along with the embassies, traveling Embassy Row – that’s not our point. Not our purpose. Fun to do, but it gets away from us. The regulars, the people of the Furtherance. The bikes of the Furtherance. I’ve no problem with my Dupont Circle depot brethren, nor the people they serve including the movers and shakers and ambassadors to many countries in the world, but here we’re like native Washingtonians or at least people who function like that, who have more a part of the non-governmental, global, ambassadorial part. We’re just people who live here in a part of an artery that’s important, but ultimately not infamous – at least not for any particular reason. Not like the rest of Mass Ave. Let’s just be us.
Jenny Marketou is a Greek visual artist, teacher, and public speaker who was born in Athens, Greece and is based in New York City. She has an MFA from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and taught as an adjunct professor at The Cooper Union School of Art. Her work is made up of video, video installation, performance, public art, internet, digital media and tactical technology that aims to engage viewer participation and transforms universal issues into a physical and intensely personal experience. He work has been show worldwide.
This blog has a nice collection of her works: http://blog.art21.org/2011/10/28/inside-the-artists-studio-jenny-marketou/#.UugGHbROmUk
Patrick McDonough is a DC-based artist who does installation, sculpture, paintings, and video. His work was just on display at the Katzen Museum and G Fine Art. He’s currently an instructor at Corcoran and American University. He has planned works in Miami, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
His works can be found here: http://pkmcdonough.com/
Sharon Louden is a New York City-based artists whose work focuses around a whimsical use of line. Her paintings, drawings, animations, sculpture, and installations are often centered around lines or linear abstractions and their implied or actual movement.
Selected works can be found here: http://www.sharonlouden.com/work/
Jeff Spaulding is a DC-based artist and professor at American University. He is a sculptor whose work can be found at G Fine Art and the Corcoran Gallery’s permanent exhibition.
His work can be found here:
The TED talk I chose was My 5 Lives as an Artist by Raghava KK. Go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_4IK8CiLg8 His talk focuses on his becoming an artist and how that has influenced his life. He was drawn to art as a child and then largely ignored it after being admonished by a nun until he got to high school. It was then he began doing caricatures for which he grew more well-known as he did many of different celebrities. When he did a cartoon featuring Osama bin Laden and the Twin Towers he received so much hate mail and negative press that he decided to change his focus. He decided to become a painter and his paintings gained notoriety. He began living the “fast life” of celebrity in India and London. His paintings sold well. He became a media darling until his mother fell ill and his artwork, which went from fun jubilance to harrowing and political. He lost the support of his Bollywood friends, collaborators, and collectors because of the change in his art. He decided, then to have a family. He and his wife – who was also his manager – decide to have a child and move back to the US.
What strikes me a great about his talk is his reinventing himself without actually doing so. He calls it his reincarnations as an artist but when you look at his work, his style, and what he is doing, it is like any other artist whose work goes through different phases, but I think what is smart about his approach is that it’s one that I agree with. I think that the starving artist has become a trope. Of course like all tropes it’s based on truth, but it’s still a stereotype nonetheless; I, however, do have many a starving artist friend and many friends who aren’t starving artists. I think it shows a balance that has to be based upon the reality of an artist, like anyone else, needs to eat. Artists are working people who need to make a living, and I think there are many ways artists can go about this that allow them to still share and have their expression expressed. It should allow for them to continue to do their work even if it doesn’t sell, even if it’s not exactly profitable. Raghava KK went through that, and each time he had moments when circumstance invaded his life, he along with his work changed to suit those circumstances. I think that’s what artists need to do especially the artist who isn’t making thousands or millions selling their work internationally or does not have that epic amount of notoriety. It’s a method that makes sense.
Rosalee Goldberg gives us a brief overview/introduction into what performance art is and how it came to be valid in the art sphere. She talks about it coming from the ideas of conceptual art, art “which insisted on an art of ideas over product and on an art that could not be bought and sold. I think that’s especially poignant about performance art and how it can differentiate itself from pure performance.
Performance is a doing. I mean that literally. Performance is doing an action; or for lack of defining a word with said word, performance is the act of performing. When we think of performing though in a more artful sense, there seems to be some conscious thought about commodity. Here I refer to art that can be bought and sold. I think pop art touched on this. Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup cans we arranged in a gallery as one would see them in a store, and if you were to buy one or all of his soup cans he had made his art a commodity just like the food we buy in the supermarket. That is a critique of art as a commodity and the almost acceptance and ridiculousness of that being a valid situation.
Is performance art no longer art because you commoditize it? No. That’s too closed a view. If people want to pay for your artistic expression, then let them pay. They them patronize. There’s nothing wrong with that. What I like though about performance art is that the artist themselves become the art object. It adds a whole new dynamic to showing non-artist audience the worth of a work of art.
I’ve always loved street performers and performances like flash mobs and other types of mobs and I see those actions as performance art. I’ve participated in flash mobs where me and a huge amount of strangers dance with each other (I love to dance) to the same choreography or not, or to freeze in place, to go pants-less on the subway, to practice yoga together. I love these kinds of events. I like that the group becomes an art piece. But to me there’s safety in being part of the group because I’m not the sole focus. I think that’s why I want to do it. I want to be the sole focus of such a type of work. It appeals to me, but there’s fear there, but as the sole participant I’m making myself the art object. That in itself is a very freeing notion. It’s a scary notion especially in that one doesn’t know how the audience will react.
I think what Goldberg misses here in her article is the personal side of performance art. I think she focuses too much on the audience side of the situation. Of how performance art has travelled through the ages, she focuses on that these performance artists did so for an audience, but I think most of them did so for themselves. I think that’s still true today. Performance art is so self-reflective and self-involved because it is the artist physically using him or herself to execute their expression.
The last paragraph of Laura Cottingham’s Outer & Inner Space state:
“Although the technical and artistic foundation of art video was formed during the 1960s and 1970s, the medium is still in its infancy at the dawn of the twenty-first century. How video will continue to challenge our understanding of what art is or could be remains to be seen – and heard.”
It’s here that I undergo a departure from the rest of her article on the history of video and its function as an art medium. I like that she defines video and how it differs from film, but I don’t think she goes into the specifics well enough. The closest she says is that “video shares no material constituents with its photography and film relatives and even looks different.” Upon further investigation, I found that this was true, but I wonder why she doesn’t explicitly lay that difference out because I think film and video – especially for [younger] audiences nowadays – have a conflation with each other. More and more now it’s easier to mimic the film-like qualities especially since both the video and film industries have embraced digital and use almost the same technology to execute a finished product. I think people my age and older who can remember tapes like VHS or( what wasn’t used popularly when I was a kid, but was still around) Betamax have a better grasp at “seeing” in our minds the difference between the to.
It’s incredible how quickly and enraptured the first video artists became with the medium. And I don’t limit that to them but to other mainstream artists who used that medium – either primarily and continued in that vein or not. I also didn’t know that a lot of that weird public access television programming I remember seeing as a kid grew from this movement of artists who were anti-TV and anti-video, but used the medium to show their opposing views about how it was commoditized in popular culture. Sure as a kid in the late 80s (truly 90s), what had started with being experimental, satirical, and political in the 1970s still continued twenty years later, but I think in not such overt ways. It seems like those video artists were trying to find a way to be combative to television’s influence and reach but by the time I was a kid I think that attitude changed and that kind of programming became more a venue for other televising points-of-view rather than anti-televisionism (ha! I created a new “ism”).
I don’t think video is any longer in its infancy, maybe its techniques are in their infancy because the technology that makes video has been so rapid-changing, but couldn’t that also be said of the camera and photo techniques. There was quite a jump from daguerreotype to the first film cameras, and that only took about 40 to 50 years. By the time Kodak film was developed, photography was no longer in its infancy, the technology to execute it was just advancing rapidly. I think Cottingham confuses that notion. Video has been around technically since about the 1920s with the invention of cathode ray tube television. We’ve really had almost a century of video and right now a half century of video art; I think it’s established. I do agree, however, with her that how video challenges our understanding or what art is or may be does remain to be seen.